By Eoin P. Campbell, LL.B., Solicitor

The loss of a loved one to a fatal accident is undoubtedly one of the most difficult experiences that a person can face. The extent of the grief and pain felt by relatives of the victim cannot be adequately described in words. It may therefore seem distasteful to even discuss the idea of monetary compensation in the aftermath of such a catastrophe. However, it is important that bereaved relatives are aware of their rights. The regrettable fact is that most families not only suffer emotionally from the the loss of the deceased but their financial circumstances may deteriorate significantly. This can obviously cause even more hardship, particularly when young children are left behind.

Who can make a Fatal Accident Compensation Claim?

Those who were financially dependent on the victim may be able to claim compensation for the loss of financial support (in various forms e.g. childcare, household duties, pension rights). Ordinarily, therefore, dependent parties will fall under one of the following categories:

  • a spouse or former spouse
  • a cohabitee (if he or she had been living as man and wife with the deceased)
  • a parent or ascendant of the deceased
  • a child or other descendant, (including children who may not be blood relatives but who were treated as children of the family)
  • other relatives of the deceased i.e. a brother, sister, uncle, aunt or their issue

In what circumstances can a Fatal Accident Compensation Claim be made?

In some ways, a fatal accident compensation claim is no different to a claim made for a non-fatal personal injury (i.e. the injured party’s own claim). The first factor in any personal injury claim is to show that “damage” or “injury” has occurred. In any standard claim, this will involve demonstrating (with medical evidence) that the claimant has indeed suffered an injury. Obviously, in the case of a fatal accident claim, the untimely death of the victim is in itself the relevant “damage” or “injury” sustained.

The second factor to note is that the fatal accident must have resulted from the negligence of someone who had a duty of care towards the deceased at the time of and in the circumstances of the accident. For example, an employer is expected to provide, within reason, a safe-working environment for his or her employees, a shop or restaurant owner his customers, a doctor his patient etc.

For example: if John fell down stairs in a restaurant and suffered a fatal injury, his family may not be able to successfully claim against the restaurant owner if the stairs conform with all the required safety legislation and there were no other negligent acts on the part of the defendant in relation to the accident. A court may well find that John’s death was due to misfortune, his own carelessness or misadventure and that therefore the proprietors of the restaurant cannot be held responsible (financially) for his death. Your solicitor will advise in detail as to other situations where a ‘duty of care’ may exist.

Is it too late to make a Fatal Accident Compensation claim?

The Civil Liability Act 1961 section 48(6) provided that a claim for compensation following a fatal accident should be brought within 3 years after the death. However, this has since been reduced to 2 years. The rule in any ‘personal injury’ type compensation claim is that the ‘clock’ on the Statute of Limitations begins to run only after the ‘date of knowledge’, which is normally the date of the accident or in this case the date of the victim’s death. Certain exceptions (albeit in very limited circumstances) do exist, however: for example, if it was initially unclear that the accident or death was caused be the negligence of another, and the limitation period may be extended accordingly. Even if the death of a loved one occurred more than 2 years ago it is still advisable therefore to contact your solicitor if you feel that negligence was involved. It may well be the case that too much time has passed: however, it is always worthwhile to make an initial enquiry just in case.

It is important to note that each case is unique. If you have lost a loved one to a fatal accident and feel that you have a potential compensation claim,you are advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.

Summary

  • Fatal accidents are terrible events but it is important that loved ones and relatives are aware of their right to compensation.
  • Those who were financially dependent on the deceased may be able to make a claim for fatal accidents compensation.
  • This will include the spouse, parent or child of the victim of the fatal accident, and possibly other relatives of the deceased.
  • Compensation claims for fatal accidents have to prove that somebody was negligent in causing the accident which led to the victim´s death.
  • Claims are usually dealt with by the Injuries Board Ireland although some claims for fatal accidents can be extended beyond the Statute of Limitations when it is discovered much later that the death was due to negligence.
  • Each claim for fatal accidents compensation is unique, and it is important that you speak with a specialised personal injuries solicitor to determine what compensation you are entitled to claim.

Copyright © 2010 Eoin P. Campbell

Eoin P. Campbell About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose professional experience is in the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.